Volvo Ocean 65: One Design to the Last Millimetre

Published on March 10th, 2015

Auckland, NZL (March 10, 2015) – Ask Knut Frostad if the absolutely identical one-design Volvo Ocean 65-footers are the right boat for the round-the-world marathon? The answer is an emphatically positive Yes!

With his Race Director Jack Lloyd, Frostad – the CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race – shared the relatively short history of the new boats at a special open session of the 5th High Performance Yacht Design Conference at the Volvo Ocean Race Village last night.

Veteran Kiwi sailing commentator Peter Montgomery compered the lively panel discussion before a packed crowd that included conference attendees from around the world.

The fleet sets out from Auckland on Sunday in the wake of Cyclone Pam, headed for the seas of the Southern Ocean on their way to Cape Horn and the next race stop in Itajaí, Brazil.

Frostad told how the building tolerances for the special production run of seven Farr-designed boats built in series were just one millimetre. By comparison the one-design tolerances for the popular 4.3-metre International Laser dinghy sailed in Olympic competition is two to three millimetres. All the wiring runs on the VOR65s are exactly the same length.

The impetus to move to one-design came in the wake of the world financial meltdown and following boat breakages and hull failures of boats in the last race designed and built to the Volvo Ocean 70 rule.

“We were not in a pretty place,” the race CEO and veteran VOR skipper recalled. The biggest problem was the escalating cost of campaigning. Meeting with sponsors and skippers the organizers asked what it would take to attract them back to the next race. Every single one said not more than 60 per cent of the costs of the previous race.

Previously, the complexities introduced by a one-off boats built to fit a one-design rule did not sit well with sponsors who didn’t understand the fine points of design and construction. For any boat that didn’t perform well, sponsors would say, “I never ordered a slow boat!” Only a one-design would work.

The situation and the timing required a momentous decision by race organizers to commission and begin building new race boats before teams had committed to competing. The tab was 37 million Euros and the decision was made to take that risk. Meanwhile, skippers when polled were unanimous that they wanted their own designs.

Recalling the VOR 2011-12, Race Director Jack Lloyd said that the then VO 70 design rule used for the third time was proving problematic. After a series of problems and breakages “we were starting to lose confidence in the boat!”

A new boat had to be strong and had to last for two iterations of the race, Lloyd said. So far noted, things were looking good. They wanted more than building a boat at a reasonable price. It had to be a boat that people wanted to sail. They chose manufacturers, products, systems that most teams would probably chose themselves. In all, the boats have 62 suppliers

“We modeled a lot of our thought process on the Laser Class where you can’t do anything. You’re supplied a product and you go sailing.” Even the sails are one-design. No sails have been recut. There have been a few repairs.

There was quite a long session at the French partner Multiplast on a full wooden model of the boat’s deck where crews worked through all the details of winch placement and myriad other details. The shape and size of the cabin house and came from efforts to protect the crew from green water sluicing down the decks. The result is less on-deck water.

With crew safety paramount, Lloyd emphasized that enormous thought and planning had gone into the design and construction of the canting keel mechanism. The collision and subsequent grounding of Team Vestas Wind on a coral reef was testament to the keel’s toughness. After salvage, the ram system was still structurally sound after sitting for three weeks on the reef. They came within an ace of using it in the rebuild of the boat except it suffered some damage during its recovery.

The next test for boats and crews will come in the stormy seas of the vast Southern Ocean, starting next week.

Source: Keith Taylor, PR4Sail

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